• Family-friendly
  • S.F. Bay Area
(Los Angeles Times)

Why: Though technology has overtaken them, there is something romantic and reassuring about lighthouses. About 20 still dot the California coast. One of the most fetching is Pigeon Point's, a 115-foot tower that includes a hostel, on a thumb of land halfway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.

What: Pigeon Point Light Station has been protecting ships since the 1870s. Though mostly for show in an era of satellite-guided navigation, it provides back-up beacons on dishwater-dark days and murky nights along this stretch of skyscraper seas and rocky coastline.

Hostel rooms to the right.
Hostel rooms to the right. (Los Angeles Times)

The hostel here makes it a terrific weekend escape that could include whale-watching or exploring and hiking along Highway 1. Accommodations include separate-sex or coed bunkrooms and private rooms for individuals, couples or families.

  • Family-friendly
  • Central Coast
(Chuck Trudeau / For The Times)

Why: You want history? There used to be a caged monkey behind the bar. But forget history. Concentrate on that insanely large slab of beef they just snow-shoveled off the grill and rushed to your table at the famed Jocko’s, in no-frills Nipomo, Calif.  

What: Jocko’s is a Central Coast institution with cinderblock walls and local ranch brands burned into the paneling. Yep, this is farm country all right, a little dusty and proudly working class.

“Come in an monkey ’round,” the sign outside says, a nod to its former mascot.

  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
(Elisa Parhad)

Why: The Bob Baker Marionette Theater is an icon of family entertainment in Los Angeles, beloved for its charming retro performances. As the longest-running puppet theater of its kind in the U.S., the venue has stood the test of time.  

What: Founded by Bob Baker and Alton Wood in 1963, the theater is housed in an unassuming building on the edge of downtown L.A. Not much has changed in the last 50 years. Coffee-can stage lights illuminate handmade puppets that dance and sing to a vintage soundtrack on a carpeted stage. Catch a seasonal production — “Halloween Spooktacular" is playing through Nov. 5 — to witness the company's unique brand of whimsy, complete with vampire lovebirds, dancing skeletons and a glow-in-the-dark alien takeover. After the show, join the cast in the adjoining salon for complimentary ice cream.

Baker served as a puppeteer and animator for hundreds of Hollywood movies and TV productions. He also made puppets for clients around the globe and was a rare mentor in a fading profession.